Though she has performed with contemporary greats such as Jon Batiste, Mariah Carey, Trey Anastasio, Patti Austin, Joni Mitchell and Melissa Etheridge, guitarist-vocalist Celisse points to gospel-rock pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe as her ultimate idol.
Appearing recently on “Saturday Night Live” with rap/R&B/funk sensation Lizzo, Celisse paid tribute to “The Godmother of Rock,” once hailed as a seminal influence by early rock icons such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. “Sister Rosetta Tharpe is a huge influence of mine,” said Celisse, who opens for Mavis Staples in a Symphony Center Presents concert Feb. 4. "Lizzo’s team was well aware of that, which ultimately led to my performance on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Having the opportunity to work with Lizzo’s team in honoring one of the most important musical innovators in our history was a dream come true.”
Known for her fiery brand of sacred and secular music, anchored by the electric guitar, Tharpe (1915-1973) became the first star of gospel. Celisse's admiration for Tharpe led her to start acoustic guitar lessons at age 18. “At first, I only knew four chords, but I loved to play them,” she said. “For most of my time playing guitar, I did not take it seriously until about eight years ago when I decided to play the electric guitar. I fell in love with it rather quickly, and the rest is history.”
With credits including the revival of "Godspell” on Broadway and TV series "30 Rock” and "Rescue Me,” Celisse still can't believe her good fortune. "I have been truly blessed with some wonderful opportunities in my career thus far. I’ve always wanted to perform for as long as I can remember, and it is all I could dream of doing while growing up.”